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Gilbert v. State of Alabama Department of Human Resources

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division

December 12, 2018




         Pamela D. Gilbert, proceeding pro se, brings this action against her former employer, the Alabama Department of Human Resources (“DHR”); Nancy Buckner, the Commissioner of DHR; and Cindy L. Bratcher, the Director of the Lauderdale County Department of Human Resources, asserting claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. (“ADEA”). Docs. 1, 11. This action is before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss Gilbert's Amended Complaint. Doc. 13. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review, see docs. 8, 12, 13, and is due to be granted in part.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “‘labels and conclusions'” or “‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” are insufficient. Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts “the allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016). However, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must . . . ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. In other words, the complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Additionally, because Gilbert is proceeding pro se, the court must construe the complaint more liberally than it would pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.”).


         Gilbert, an African-American woman over the age of 40, worked for DHR from 1996 until her discharge in 2017. Doc. 11 at 2. During her employment, Gilbert “reported to management that she was working in a hostile work environment created by [] Bratcher and Jennifer Bolton Bittinger . . ., ” her supervisors who were both Caucasian women. Id. Allegedly, Bratcher and Bittinger verbally degraded Gilbert to her Caucasian subordinates and provided those subordinates with training they denied Gilbert. Id. at 3. In addition, DHR moved Gilbert's desk to physically isolate her after she complained about the denial of training opportunities. Id. After Gilbert “asked for training, written guidelines and examples of work responsibilities, ” her supervisors told Gilbert that she should take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) based on their perception that Gilbert had a mental disability or psychiatric disorder. Id. However, Gilbert could not find a doctor to approve her FMLA leave at that time because her doctor did not believe she had a mental illness. Id. at 3, 6. Ultimately, Gilbert “made only one request for FMLA in July 2017, ” which Bratcher denied even though she approved FMLA requests made by “younger, white females . . . for minor events.” Id. at 7.[2]

         Gilbert reported her supervisors “to the state HR EEOC . . ., but management failed to discuss” her concerns. Id. at 4. Instead, her supervisors set a due process hearing regarding her work performance, rescheduled the hearing several times over a period of months, and placed multiple notices on a conference room door regarding the hearing. Id. The supervisors retaliated against Gilbert “with write-ups, work assignments, delayed vacation requests, denied FMLA, and ultimately [the] adverse action of termination . . . .” Id. Moreover, the supervisors withdrew an offer to allow Gilbert to step down to a different position and department, and while Gilbert was on FMLA leave, discharged her less than two years before her retirement and replaced her with a younger, Caucasian woman. Id. at 4, 7-8.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Gilbert asserts claims for violations of Title VII and the ADEA in her Amended Complaint. Briefly, Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating “against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, ” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), while the ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age, 29 U.S.C. § 623(a). Title VII and the ADEA also prohibit employers from retaliating against an employee for engaging in activities protected by the acts. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); 29 U.S.C. § 623(d). The defendants have moved to dismiss all claims, arguing that Gilbert has failed to plead viable claims.

         A. Claims Against the Individual Defendants

         The defendants argue correctly that Gilbert may not pursue claims against Buckner and Bratcher indidvidually. Indeed, the relief provided under Title VII and the ADEA is against the employer rather than co-workers or supervisors in their individual capacity. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); 29 U.S.C. § 623(a); Smith v. Lomax, 45 F.3d 402, 402 n.4 (11th Cir. 1995) (noting that individuals “cannot be held liable under the ADEA or Title VII”) (citations omitted); Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) (“[R]elief granted under Title VII is against the employer, not individual employees whose actions would constitute a violation of the act.”) (emphasis in original).[3] Thus, to the extent the Amended Complaint asserts claims against Buckner and Bratcher, the claims are due to be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         B. Claims Against DHR

         The defendants raise multiple arguments in support of dismissal of the claims against DHR. As an initial matter, DHR argues that the Eleventh Amendment bars any recovery for monetary damages against it. Doc. 8 at 16. DHR's argument is unavailing in part because Congress abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment immunity from Title VII suits. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 447-48 (1976); In re Employment Discrimination Litig. Against State of Ala., 198 F.3d 1305, 1317 (11th Cir. 1999) (“[W]e have no hesitation in concluding that Congress unequivocally expressed its intent to abrogate the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity when it amended Title VII to cover state and local governments.”). However, DHR is correct that Gilbert cannot recover punitive damages against it. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b) (precluding the recovery of punitive damages from “a government, government agency, or political subdivision”); Alexander v. Fulton County, Ga., 207 ...

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